I thought when I saw the 1905 statue that stands square in the middle of Ocean Grove, New Jersey.
My Stokes, of course, is I.N. Phelps Stokes, the white-shoe iconographer and Manhattan-phile I wrote about in Love, Fiercely: A Gilded Age Romance. This was a different branch of the Stokes clan and a man famous for a completely different kind of endeavor: saving souls.
Ellwood Stokes founded Ocean Grove in the mid-nineteenth century and it rapidly became a Methodist camp meeting community with regular revivals at over which he presided. Pastors still come to the place to share their wisdom, although the subject matter differs a bit. When we leaned into the godly precincts there was an avid audience of worshippers laughing as the minister described his wife’s morning sickness and linked it to Godliness.
If you want to find out the conditions for swimming at the delightful beach you get a biblical proverb too, something to ponder as you tan. Bruce Springsteen grew up right down the way, but I have a feeling he did not come here for spiritual inspiration.
Ocean Grove is one of the most picturesque towns I’ve been to. Totally dry, too.
Houses are almost impossibly charming. It seemed people were sleeping in the Saturday we visited, it was so quiet.
Gingerbread to die for.
Flaming crape myrtle in almost every yard.
When Stokes founded the place those houses would not have existed.
He was so proud when the 9,000 seat Great Auditorium went up.
Parishioners set up modest platform tents to be nearer to the action.
They still stand, and are a hot commodity.
The real estate in Ocean Grove is competitive, but writer-types still manage to sneak in. Introducing Nancy Naglin, who with her husband J.J. Kane first summered here and then wound up as a permanent resident.
Nancy wrote an incredible book called Orphan of the Century, a wild ride that depicts a boy born in 1923 as he roams the underworlds of Poland, China and other countries as a crack pool player – an epic story of gambling, survival, sexual identity and the dignity of the human heart.
Orphan of the Century may be purchased at Amazon and will make a fine gift for anyone who likes adventure and fun in a summer read as well as the occasional racy tweak. To quote the back, which is sometimes a good idea, the novel “is an epic story of gambling, survival, sexual identity and the dignity of the human heart.” It’s on my bedside table now. I think Ellwood Stokes would have read it in secret for some private titillation.
Come to Ocean Grove and spend an afternoon under the town’s lovely park of white pines. Nancy will sign a copy for you.